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MLB by the numbers: Cubs, Sox can’t get runners on, around

Chicago Cubs' David DeJesus bats against Miami Marlins during baseball game Miami Sunday  April 28 2013. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

Chicago Cubs' David DeJesus bats against the Miami Marlins during a baseball game in Miami, Sunday, April 28, 2013. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

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As the White Sox and Cubs struggled to score runs — and win ballgames — in April, the cry on both sides of town was that a lack of timely hitting was partly to blame.

And it’s true. Both teams were dreadful hitting with men on base. In their 10-16 April, the Cubs hit .165 with men on base and had a .260 on-base percentage and a .284 slugging percentage for a horrendous .544 OPS. Compare that with the National League average with men on base of .252/.338/.382 for a .721 OPS.

The Sox weren’t much better in their 10-15 month, hitting .189/.261/.318 for a .579 OPS with men on base, far below the American League average of .254/.336/.402 for
a .738 OPS.

The Cubs’ Alfonso Soriano drove in only one runner from scoring position in the month, with runners-in-scoring-position numbers of .130/.200/.130 for a .330 OPS in 25 plate appearances. The Sox’ Dayan Viciedo drove in only two runners from scoring position, though he had only 10 plate appearances in such situations. His numbers with men in scoring position were .200/.200/.300 for a .500 OPS.

They weren’t alone, of course, as the Sox averaged only 3.6 runs and the Cubs 3.5 in April. With AL teams averaging 4.4 runs and NL teams 4.1, that kind of production won’t take Chicago’s teams very far.

But while both teams have been frigid with runners in scoring position, they have been almost as bad at getting runners into scoring position in the first place. FanGraphs.com has calculated the on-base portion of OPS as about 1.8 times more important as the slugging portion in terms of producing runs. A hitter with a high OBP not only is getting on base, but he’s using fewer outs, giving more chances to his teammates.

The Cubs and Sox have fallen short of the competition there, too. In April, the Sox had a .283 OBP (the AL average was .322) and the Cubs had a .288 OBP (the NL average was .313). That translates into fewer opportunities with runners in scoring position.

The Sox had 177 plate appearances with runners in scoring position in April. The 14 other AL teams averaged 253 plate appearances with runners in scoring position.

The Cubs had 226 plate appearances with runners in scoring position in April. The 14 other NL teams averaged nearly the same number as their AL counterparts, with a fraction less than 253.

So you have a double whammy. Both teams were bad at getting runners into scoring position and awful at bringing them around when the runners got there.

Runners-in-scoring-position numbers tend to vary wildly, as happens whenever you’re dealing with small samples. Nothing is certain, but the most likely circumstance is that the Sox’ and Cubs’ stats in those situations will more closely resemble their overall numbers from this point forward. But that’s no cure-all unless they get their OBPs up to par and put more runners in scoring position.



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